How I went about applying for a grant: by someone who was successful

Vision member Gary Kemble announced this week that he had received an OZCo (Australian Literature Board) Grant. So I grabbed him and said, Gary, please tell us how you did it!

A bit about Gary:

Gary Kemble is a speculative fiction writer and journalist/blogger/social media guy for the ABC. His two most recent credits are ‘Feast or Famine’ (Macabre: A Journey Through Australia’s Darkest Fears, Brimstone Press) and ‘Bug Hunt’ (One Books Many Brisbanes 5, BCC).  The speculative fiction book he will write is set in Brisbane and is about ghosts, tattoos, police corruption and politics. Here are Gary’s tips on applying for a grant.

Gary on grant writing …

The bad news: most grant applications *aren’t* successful. In the 2010 Australia Council New Work Grant (Emerging) round there were 87 applications, of which 71 were deemed eligible and 13 were successful. The year before, there were 226 applications, but the year before that there were only 58. (

The good news: first-time applicants (such as myself) can get funded! So take the process seriously, but try to keep your expectations in check. And if you don’t succeed – try again. You’ll be up against a different batch of applicants, so anything can happen.

I first thought about grants back in 2006, afterinterviewing horror writer Martin Livings . That was when I realised that the Australia Council actually funded people writing speculative fiction. Up until then, I just assumed that it was only for ‘literature’. I think at the time I looked at the eligibility criteria and realised I didn’t have enough publication credits.

I thought about grants off and on after that, and then earlier this year I noticed that the Queensland Writers Centre had a seminar on grant writing, run by CEO Kate Eltham. It was fantastic. I learnt a bit more about the Emerging Writers Grant and also a bunch of other grants, such as the Arts Queensland Career Development Grant (which I also successfully applied for and, as a result, was able to attend AussieCon 4).

But the real revelation was that the people who administer these grants *want to help you*. That kinda seems like a no-brainer now, but for some reason I imagined they were trying to figure out reasons to *not* give people money. Whereas, in actual fact, they exist to *help* writers, artists etc.

The next step was to sort out my eligibility. There’s the Emerging category, and also the Established category. The Emerging section is administered by the Australian Society of Authorsand the Established is administered by theAustralia Council . It’s important to get this right, because if you apply for the wrong grant, they won’t forward it to the other body, it will just be deemed ineligible.

I’d had over 60,000 words published, but in short stories, not one big work. So I phoned the Australia Council, asked them what they thought, and they advised me to apply for the Emerging category.

A key hurdle in applying for the grant is establishing that you are eligible. This is the Australia Council making sure that you’ve got some hope of completing the project that they’re funding. In the case of Emerging writers, you have to have had (if like me your background is short stories) 10 short works of fiction published in ‘professional literary journals, edited anthologies, major newspapers or general national magazines’.

By ‘professional literary journals’ they mean publications (and this includes online publications) where there are submission guidelines and a clear editorial selection process. To give you an idea of what they consider ‘eligible’, my publication credits included Borderlands magazine, Dark Tales magazine, Shadowed Realms (online), Espresso Fiction (online), Ripples magazine, Artworker magazine, The Writing Show (podcast) and the following anthologies: London at Dawn, Zombies, The Devil in Brisbane, One Book Many Brisbanes 3, One Book Many Brisbanes 5. I listed them in reverse chronological author so the assessors could see my progression as a writer.

This process took quite a bit of digging around, even though I keep track of my publication history. They need to know the month of publication, as well as the year, so that’s something to keep in mind when you’re updating your writer’s CV.

The second part of the application process was the project description, stating what you want to do and how you propose to do it. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. I watched the Charlotte Wood case study on the Australia Council website to give me some ideas .

I decided to start with a quick (one longish paragraph) synopsis of my story. And when I say ‘synopsis’, I mean sort of like the blurb you read on the back of a book. I felt it was a strong hook.

After that, I explained how this project would help me develop as a writer – I wanted to fuse my burgeoning fiction talent with the skills that I have acquired as a journalist. I explained the challenges of finding time to devote to a project when you’ve got two small children. I can write at night, but it’s hard to find time to interview people and do research at the library.

Then I did a quick overview of my writing career, explaining both the successes I’ve had writing short stories and also the challenges in moving over to the novel (I’ve written or co-written six novel-length manuscripts) – I explained that even though none of these had been published, they were part of my journey as a writer.

I said that I wanted my novel to be steeped in Queensland history and to do that I would need to do proper research – library research and interviews. I told them I wanted to add to the growing list of speculative fiction novels set in Brisbane: Will Elliott’s Pilo Family Circus, Stephen M Irwin’s The Dead Path, Trent Jamieson’s Death Works trilogy.

After that, I threw in a short paragraph about the novel’s themes, and then one last paragraph about how I’m aiming for this book to be the first in a series.

The final part of the application is a writing sample. This can be anything: a sample of the project you want to work on, or a previous example of your work. I chose an excerpt from ‘Untethered’, the short story published in One Book Many Brisbanes 3 ( I did this for two reasons: 1. It’s got the tone I’m going to aim for in my new project, and; 2. I’d worked on it with OBMB editor Rosie Fitzgibbon, so I was confident it was of a high standard.

After that, it’s just a matter of bundling it up and licking the stamps!

In summary:

* Plan for the worst, but hope for the best. I’m living proof that magic happens!

* Short stories are a great way of building your skills and getting over the eligibility hurdle.

* Keep a good record of your publication history – it will save time later.

* Write a project summary that tells the panel about the project, but also how the project will help you develop as a writer.

* Choose a strong example of your writing.

Good luck!

Rowena here, I’ve applied for 2 professional development grants and gotten one. ( A nod of thanks to Arts QLD for funding my trip to the World SF Con in Glasgow in 2005). And I’ve applied for 3 or 4 grants to write new work and not gotten any. Have you applied for any grants and if so, what were they?

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